One of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases is reportedly planning to reduce its carbon output by 20 percent in the next 15 years.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that Japan is planning to announce the 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as its contribution to international negotiations on slowing human-caused climate change, which are scheduled to take place in Paris later this year. Japan is currently the world’s fifth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.
As of now, though, it’s unclear whether Japan’s reported pledge is actually significant, because it’s similarly unclear which year’s emissions the promised reductions will be based off of. Kyodo News reported that government would cut emissions 20 percent from 2005 levels, a year when carbon emissions were relatively low because Japan was still heavily reliant on nuclear power. However, the leading business daily Nikkei reported the reduction would be from 2013 levels, which following the country’s nuclear shutdown were the second-highest in the country’s history. Both reports cited unnamed sources.
Right now Kyodo News and Nikkei are the only two outlets claiming direct knowledge of the plan, so we’ll update this post if we hear anything more definitive.
If Japan’s reductions are indeed based off 2013 levels, a 20 percent reduction would be minimal. Compared to carbon levels in 1990 — the year when the country had its lowest recorded emissions — it would represent only an 11 percent reduction. And that’s not good enough, according to Jennifer Morgan, the global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute.
“If this is the Japanese offer to the world, it is clearly out of step with recent developments in the U.S., China, and Europe where countries are shifting away from coal,” Morgan said in an e-mailed statement. “Japan should use this chance to reach their potential and join the ranks of India, Germany and China in the clean energy race.” Either way, it is somewhat surprising that Japan would make any carbon reduction pledge considering the significant level of uncertainty facing its energy policies. Following the country’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan shut down all of its working nuclear reactors and switched to more carbon-spewing fossil fuels to fill the energy production void. At the time, Japan was getting about 30 percent of its power from nuclear, and planned to increase that to 40 percent by 2017.
Now, tougher safety standards have been imposed on nuclear power, and Japan is considering bringing it back into the mix. According to a Reuters report last week, the country’s Liberal Democratic Party approved a proposal to bring nuclear back up to 20 percent of the country’s energy mix. That proposal goes against Japanese public opinion — according to one poll, 59 percent of Japanese voters oppose restarting nuclear capacity, and only 28 percent support it. Either way, the proposal still has to be approved by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.
Despite those uncertainties, Japan’s reportedly imminent pledge would make it the last of the world’s top carbon emitters to make some sort of indication on what it will do during the international climate negotiations later this year.
The United States — the world’s second-largest carbon emitter and the largest emitter on a per-person basis — has pledged to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The world’s biggest emitter, China, has promised via a deal with the U.S. to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030, and to peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year.
In a plan submitted to the United Nations earlier this month, Russia said it could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent of its 1990 levels by 2030. The European Union has said it will cut its emissions by 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels. And India, while it has not developed any concrete emissions reductions goals, has agreed to “cooperate closely” with the United States for a “successful and ambitious” agreement at the Paris climate talks at the end of the year.
This article has been updated to include comments from the World Resources Institute.